We’ve only driven 20 minutes outside of Tashkent and it already feels like a different world. The soviet style apartment buildings and lush parks dissipate into dusty villages and farm land. When I first moved to Tashkent, I felt like I had stepped as far away from the familiar as possible. Now when I return to Tashkent from other regions of Uzbekistan, I feel like I’ve stepped back into the modern world. This time we were off to spend the day in the unfamiliar of Zaamin National Park.
I first became interested in visiting Zaamin after reading an article about the elusive snow leopard existing in the park. I had no intention of finding any snow leopards but after seeing pictures of the mountains and Juniper forests in the area I knew I wanted to visit before returning to the states.
Even though Zaamin is the oldest nature preserve in the country, most people don’t seem to know about it. Residents in Tashkent often go to the mountains, but generally only in the Chimgan area. I realized quickly that even fewer foreigners find themselves in Zaamin. Where as I had become use to asking to take pictures of people, I was now on show as people took pictures of me. ME?! For the first time, Uzbekistan felt as curious about me as I did about it.
Once we got off the main road we found ourselves surrounded by rolling hills and gnarled Juniper trees. There didn’t seem to be any set trails, so we wandered along a ridge line. It wasn’t long before one of the villagers caught up to us and self-appointed himself as our tour guide. At first it was annoying, but he was quiet, and by that point I had accepted that it would be just another odd day in Uzbekistan. A continually perplexing and exotic country to me.